Monday, March 3, 2014

Dating Law vs. Dating Gospel, Part 4: The Junk Drawer: Or, The Difference Between Legalism and Wisdom

This is part 4 of a series on grace, dating, and law. Today we will look at how having a dating gospel influences how we think through the “can’s”, the “cannot’s” and what wisdom the Bible has to in regards to dating relationships. You can check out the rest of the series here, here, and here.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, let me confess: I am a grace addict. It fuels my life, drives my motivations, and guides my relationships. Now it didn’t used to be, but with the help of some key people in my life and the work of the Spirit on my pride and insecurity (yes, those two things are connected), I have come to desire nothing more than to bask in my acceptance before God because of the work of Jesus on my behalf. I still struggle with pride and insecurity, but I now know that it does not change or affect how God sees me, rather, the only thing that changes is my attitude towards Him, myself, and others. Now as you can imagine, this has had a profound effect on my dating relationships, namely because nothing brings out pride and insecurity more than grace and acceptance in the presence of sheer failure.  I’m sure nobody wants to fall flat on their face in front of people on a regular basis (especially around those whom we are dating), but many of us seem to get stuck in cycles of sin, failure, and defeat in this specific area. So to continue with our theme of law and gospel, I would like to propose two ways to handle failure, rough patches, and the junk drawer of sin in dating, and how different of a result they produce. As with before, let’s begin with our dating Law.

Dating law, when addressing how to navigate sin, frustration, and failure will do three things:
1) Assess which rules have been broken.
2) Assign blame.
3) Reassert a “do better, try harder” outlook.
In my dating relationships this is what I did, because my pride (which said I didn’t need outside help to figure this out) and my insecurity (which said I still wasn’t good enough) were directing my decisions, not grace.

Dating gospel, when addressing the same issues, will react like this:
1) Assess how they have not looked out for the good of the other.
2) Seek wisdom from Scripture and godly counsel.
3) Reassert identity in Christ.
What I have learned (and am still learning) is the importance of the gospel in the moment of weakness and failure, and the inclusion of wisdom afterward. For you see, if you do not remember the grace of God in the presence your failures and frustrations, you will revert back to a self-centered introspection which can only lead to pride (thinking you’re not that bad) or despair (thinking you’re too far gone). If you do not remember the gospel (which by it’s very nature is outside yourself) afterward, then you will be prone to make the same mistakes over and over again. This is where wisdom from outside comes in and helps form us in regards to gospel relationships.

The thing I have gotten the most most pushback when sharing this idea with others is how far grace stretches. I hear “but Jordan, if you don’t enforce some kind of moral standard, then people just do whatever they want and sin will reign in that relationship”. They will speak of “cheap grace” (a contradiction in terms if I’ve ever heard one), which shows how little grace is actually understood. There is no such thing as cheap grace, because grace is by definition infinitely costly, though the cost is on God, not ourselves. To quote Tim Keller once more, “God is so holy that because of sin, Jesus had to die, but because God is loving, Jesus was glad to die.” Sin is serious, and in dating that reality is only magnified because when you allow another into your life, it becomes hard to hide (exactly what relationships are supposed to do, bring us into the light). Interestingly enough, the other hesitancy I receive goes something like this: Well if it’s true that grace changes everything, including the way we date, then shouldn’t that be all we need? Isn’t all this supposed “biblical wisdom” the exact kind of “law” you have been warning us about?  If grace is all we need, why look for a guiding rule to dating? The problem here is an unnecessary and unhelpful dichotomy. Wisdom from the Scriptures and submission to godly counsel and authority is exactly the kind of grace I am talking about. If the dating gospel is looking out for the good of the other, and not the needs of the self, then we would do a disservice to those we are dating if we isolated ourselves from others and refused the grace that is present in wisdom, seeing that grace is not a rug that we sweep all our mistakes under, but a transformative reality.

So let’s end with a few practical points for surrounding ourselves and our significant others with the grace of wisdom, and training ourselves to see the deception of dating law.

FIrst: Surround your relationship with godly people who love you and will speak truth and grace into your lives.
This doesn’t just mean you have “accountability partners”, but that you are constantly spending time with and around these people. They are part of the normal rhythms of your week and see you two in the good and the bad. One of the worst things you can do for a relationship is to isolate the two of you where you spend all your time “alone together”. I’m not just talking about physical temptation (that will always be there), but when you only get time with one person, it begins to be more difficult to do what is actually best for them.
Second: Be quick to repent.
In dating relationships you are going to sin against one another, and when it happens, acknowledge your sin, repent, and ask for your significant other’s forgiveness. If you are both fully covered under grace, then sin doesn’t have to come in and tear you apart. You can acknowledge what it is, and live in the reality of God’s forgiveness as it flows through you. The goal of the gospel is reconciliation, and if God can reconcile sinful humanity to himself, then you can apologize for trapping her cat in the closet or belittling him in front of his friends.
Third: Be quick to forgive.
Again, when to sinners get together, sin happens. In relationship, what seems miniscule to one may be a huge deal to the other. If we are using the gospel as the defining mark of dating, then practicing forgiveness has to be a core element. We must learn to understand that the vertical reality of our relationship with God has to have horizontal implications for those we are relationship with, especially those in our dating relationships. Holding onto resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness is the quickest way to dissolve a relationship, and if we have experienced such a great forgiveness, why would we hold it back from those closest to us?

Next week, in our final installment, we will try to understand the relationship between the gospel, dating, and marriage as a capstone to all we have discussed so far. Dont miss it.